Illinois Coined “March Madness,” NCAA Then Took It
Maybe it's not quite as simple as the headline would indicate, but the truth of the matter is indisputable. Illinois High School athletics first used the term way back in 1939.
I knew absolutely nothing about Illinois' connection to March Madness until Monday morning, when Joe Dredge brought up this little nugget of information. He was discussing the Fighting Illini's prospects during the upcoming NCAA tournament when he pointed out "Y'know, Illinois first used the term March Madness before it was used to describe the current NCAA tournament."
Well, to be honest about my sports knowledge (or lack thereof), I didn't know that at all. I thought about pretending to know it because I'm a guy, and if there's one thing most guys hate to admit it's that they might not know something about sports. Any sports. Doesn't matter if it's the big three of football, baseball, and basketball or if it's something way out there like Bo-taoshi or Buzkashi, most guys like to know sports stuff and hate being caught clueless.
So, I did what you do when a friend tells you something you didn't know (that maybe you should have)--I went looking for ways to prove that he was full of crap.
And, I failed completely. Joe is right. According to the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) website, the annual boys high school basketball tournament began back in 1908 with a simple invitational tournament that eventually grew into an institution with over 900 competing high schools by the late 1930s.
Henry V. Porter, assistant executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association, was so impressed by the phenomenon that he wrote an essay to commemorate it. Entitled "March Madness," it first appeared in the Illinois Interscholastic, the IHSA's magazine, in 1939. During the tournament's "Golden Era" of the 1940's and 1950's, "March Madness" became the popular name of the event.
But how does the NCAA get away with using an Illinois-centric title for their college basketball tournament? An article in Sportscasting.com says that it's because Illinois didn't get around to trademarking the term March Madness until 1989, which is about 50 years after they started using it. Compounding the problem was sportscaster Brent Musberger, who began calling the NCAA tournament "March Madness" in the early 1980s. The article points out that Brent knew it was a term he'd originally heard in reference to the IHSA tournament here in Illinois.
The clash between the IHSA and NCAA began in 1996 when the IHSA sued an NCAA sponsor, GTE, for attempting to distribute a CD-ROM game featuring the “March Madness” title. Countersuits were filed and the litigation could have gone on for years had the two sides not come to an agreement. The IHSA and NCAA agreed to share the phrase under a joint holding company, the March Madness Athletic Association, and both still use the term to this day.